Caught in the Middle

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Here's a sure-fire way to anger kids: The next time they ask for something, tell them they're not old enough.

As adamant as today's youngsters are about their ability to function at a level beyond their years, a study conducted by The Geppetto Group concludes that when it comes to advertising, “'tweens� (kids aged 10 to 13) are simply not ready for the hard-line messages that advertisers often use to reach teenagers. But donning kid gloves isn't the answer either. The New York City-based advertising agency and marketing consultancy for the youth market recommends that these 16.5 million kids, stuck between the rock of childhood and the hard place of adolescence, get unique advertising messages of their own.

These 'tween years are psychologically complex, to say the least. Julie Halpin, CEO and founder of The Geppetto Group, sums it up like this: When a child reaches their 'tweens, they come to realize that they are essentially at the bottom of the social food chain. In order to move up the chain, they are under constant pressure to understand what's going on in the world. The last thing 'tweens want is to feel dumb — a reminder of their transitional status. All advertising messages that reach 'tweens come face to face with this firewall of convoluted self-introspection. If a message causes 'tweens undue frustration in their attempt to understand it, they are likely to project blame on the brand for delivering a perplexing message.

“The idea of ‘getting it’ is imperative,� says Halpin. “When an ad makes a 'tween feel like there's an inside joke between them and the advertiser, it's a home run. If they don't ‘get it,’ they'll reject the product.�

The Geppetto Group study found that vast majorities of 'tweens (78 percent) “get� and enjoy ads that are silly or stupid in nature and 54 percent easily understand ads that contain some kind of physical activity. What they don't “get� are ads with sarcasm or edgy content. Only 17 percent and 14 percent, respectively, “get� such ads.

Of course, during their 'tweens, children start to become a lot more interested in S-E-X. But, the Geppetto study notes that 'tweens are much more naive than teens when it comes to gender roles, love, and sexuality. Like younger children, 'tweens are more likely to understand the target group for an ad by the gender of those portrayed in it. During the qualitative analysis portion of the study, Geppetto recorded many comments from 'tweens like: “[The ad] is for boys. I didn't see any girls in it,� and “It's for girls; the main character is a girl.�

And unlike hormone-raging teens, 'tweens are not interested in, and are actually turned off by, explicit images of romance and sex. This group would much rather see “dancing� (69 percent) and “boyfriends and girlfriends together� (63 percent), than “sexy looking people� (19 percent) and “people kissing� (13 percent). In other words, 'tweens are most comfortable with benign portrayals of love and romance. Halpin gives this additional guideline for advertisers targeting this unique age group: “[Characters in advertisements] can be together and they can be sexy, but they can't be sexy together.� We all know they'll get plenty of that when they grow up.

For more information, contact Julie Halpin at The Geppetto Group at (212) 462-8140.


Forty-two percent of 'tweens enjoy seeing musicians in ads.


Kids my age 56%
Musicians 42%
TV/Book/Movie characters 41%
Movie stars 39%
Athletes 33%
Source: The Geppetto Group
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